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Another nest, more starving nestlings

Toa Kyle | Nov 03, 2006


We’ve located our sixth active nest for the season though it comes with a certain melancholy.  This nest was active in 2005 too but failed due to flooding (yet another low quality open crown motacu snag).  That a pair would return to this low quality nest in 2006 is curious but old habits die hard I suppose.  I’d hoped to get to this particular area in September but due to work with active nests in other areas we couldn’t get here until late October.  I was happy to see a pair of BTM at this nest upon our first arrival but was concerned the nest could flood again.  Their behavior didn’t clearly show that it was active.  It obviously wasn’t being incubated or we’d have seen the female inside the cavity almost constantly.  The pair would take brief turns entering the cavity though for short bouts.  I decided on the next morning to climb with the aim of putting in a drain hole.  To my surprise saw three young nestlings, one recently hatched.  Going back to our experience in mid-September with nest 28 I knew we likely had to supplement the third hatched chick to keep it alive.  We returned in the afternoon to supplement feed and tragically found both the second and third chick dead.  Both had empty crops.  The first hatched chick was obviously receiving all the meals but whether this was due to parental preference or sibling rivalry is unknown.  While losing the third hatched nestling may be the norm, losing the second chick without giving it a fighting chance for survival was hard to accept.  I can’t help but think that if we’d arrived a few days earlier we may have been able to prevent its loss.  Nevertheless a new nest with a nestling inside is good news for this season.  Including this nest, we’re currently monitoring the progress of six nestlings.  Given how few BTMs we know of in the wild, to fledge six chicks will be quite an accomplishment plus we’ve still got the ex-bee hive nest to hatch chicks in less than two weeks. 

I’ve received some bad news by radio from our NW camp.  They’ve found the remains of a BTM.  Its feathers were all over the place thus making it likely it was predated.  The question is, by what?  At this stage I’m inclined to think a Great-horned Owl (GHO) was the culprit.  They’re found at almost every site we work with BTMs at.  Friends in Brazil tell me that in the Pantanal, Hyacinth Macaws become very agitated when GHO are in the vicinity of their roosts.  If GHOs can predate the largest flying parrot they won’t have problems with BTMs, where females can be half the weight of Hyacinths.

This is the second time we’ve found the remains of a BTM, a constant reminder that as we work to increase the number of BTM chicks entering the wild, adult and juvenile birds continue to exit the population via predation, disease and old age.  Losing adults is always tough because macaws are in general, long-lived birds capable of producing numerous offspring in their lifetime.  We still don’t know if an individual that loses its mate will pair up again with time.  It doesn’t help matters that there’s so few potential mates to choose from.